We have enjoyed cruising for many years with various cruise lines: Celebrity, Royal Caribbean,Princess and now have added HAL to our list. We chose the Maasdam because of its itinerary and were very happy with that decision. No other cruise line has been able to come up to the standards set by Celebrity but HAL comes pretty "dam" close.
We spent many hours pouring over CC reviews of HAL and the Maasdam and so had some reservations about the HAL age factor since we are recently retired and in our 50s. As well, liking the size of the Millennium class ships of Celebrity, we were worried that the small 1290 passenger Maasdam would disappoint.
EMBARKATION: Embarkation was one of the smoothest we have encountered. We were particularly happy to observe how HAL politely yet deliberately adhered to their embarkation procedure although some passengers attempted to pass a 9 for a 6. It always amazes me how some folks feel entitled to change the rules. We arrived at the pier at 11:00 and were on board by 11:30. Lunch was served in the Lido - a very pleasant morning.
DINING: I guess that although in our 50s we are somewhat old-fashioned and prefer the traditional fixed dining times. We always request a large table and have met the most wonderful people on every cruise, this cruise was no exception - a lovely classy couple from just outside Philadelphia. Having never sailed with HAL before I was surprised to see crew exclusively from Indonesia. This turned out to be the most pleasant part of the cruise. Everyone was so friendly, amiable and enthusiastic. Perhaps it is because there is some camaraderie amongst staff who share common backgrounds. I cannot stress enough how wonderful the service was. Yes,there were a few mistakes with orders as we read on other CC reviews but so what. The main dining room is pleasant, and as seasoned travelers everyone adhered to dress codes well. The menus were varied and food was very good - not up to the standards of Celebrity - but close. There are some strange items such as meatloaf, beef is over-used on the menu and yes, the vegetable selection is poor and tasteless - broccoli and carrots are staples. There are some odd terms used for a classy ship such a "mound of..." and some misses like a tough porkchop or William potato - dry and horrible. But in all, not nearly the poor ranking given by some CC members. The prime rib is fab, it was the best duck I have ever had and the cold soups hit the mark. My sister-in-law raved about the salmon - always available if other choices failed to entice. I do wish there could be another kind of final evening Rah Rah other than serviettes and baked Alaska - but again it tasted great. The Pinnacle (upcharge of $20) was a disappointment - service was poor, lacked the panache and flair of Celebrity by a mile. But the actual food was excellent! In the Lido, the buffet tray service restaurant, there was plenty of selection, is well organized and flows well. Taste is good - but nothing to write a review about. There are some nice touches HAL makes such as freshly (as you watch) squeezed OJ, excellent cheeses, and endless ice cream doled out generously. Unfortunately the manager of the Lido, although very efficient, is a sour-puss and we observed many times how he treated the wonderful Indonesian staff with unnecessary disdain. Funny how that kind of observation leaves a bad taste in your mouth!
CABINS: We went for an inside since we are going on three cruises this year and don't want to skimp on the Baltic cruise. It was slightly larger than most insides on other cruise lines and the beds and bedding are very very comfortable. Air-conditioning is an issue on the Maasdam as we had read in other CC reviews and our cabin was far too hot. Even after a request, we were unable to lower the temp. Hopefully a further refit will address this as well as the bathrooms that are old and showing their age. Cupboard space is excellent and I appreciated the design both for men's and women's clothing. It would be nice to get rid of the useless stool and replace the chair with one that actually fits under the table. We had some medication that had to be refrigerated and had to pay $2 a day to add a fridge to the room - I felt nickled and dimed since we always had a fridge with other cruise lines. Again the Indonesian crew was wonderful here too. There were 3 of us in the room, and all were sick at one time or another during the 14 days with colds (no fault of the ship) and the cabin staff was marvelous working with that. We certainly chose to adjust the $11 automatic tipping in order to justly thank our head waiter and cabin stewards. One downer was the noise in the cabin. We got into port early every time and the noise and vibrations of the thrusters was terrible. Ear plugs didn't help. The last two nights some work went on below us all night, so I now know to never choose an aft cabin on A deck.
ENTERTAINMENT: This was very poor indeed - the worst we have ever encountered. The big show numbers were horrible, dated and cheesy. There were a few exceptions- a male singer- Andrew who holds it all together for the otherwise barely high school cast. Simon Cowell would have a field day here! The guy in the piano bar had a very meager following - he wasn't good, the specialty acts brought in were dated (Henry Mancini was a hit with the audience though - again reflecting the age factor on the ship). But again there were a few notable exceptions: the Rosario strings and the flautist. We also enjoyed dancing in the Ocean Bar and could keep up with the wonderful dancing of the 70 year olds. It is so nice to see older couples who love to have a good time together. The Crow's Nest is a joke - on the Maasdam at least there's nothing happening there. We walked through several nights at 11 but it was dead - if you want any action after 10, the Maasdam (other than the casino) is not the ship for you. The cruise director, Susan Wood, tries her very best - she is marvellous at her job - knows and caters to the clientele well,even down to her "toodaloo" that the older American crowd ate up. As a Canadian, it was no big deal, but the Americans enjoyed the charm in it with the Liverpoolian accent. HAL certainly misses the mark when it comes to the 45-60 age bracket and since this is a growing market they had better address this soon. On the Constellation there was a guitarist who played James Taylor and Cat Stevens stuff on the aft deck at 10 who had loads of faithfuls - all still kept drinking. Something to think about HAL. Maybe that lost Crow's Nest space should be rethought.
PUBLIC AREAS: The library area is the only place on the ship where the air-conditioning actually works well. The library area is a wonderful space used well by patrons. It does seem silly to pay for an expresso that is free at dinner but I guess that is part of profit-making.I would prefer paying an extra $50 rather than this nickel and dime stuff. We used the spa daily - paying $250 a couple for the 14 days - a fair deal. Although small, it was nice only lacking a thalassotherapy pool. It doesn't compare to the spa on Crown Princess, Constellation or Serenade of the Seas but since it was built in 1993, I guess one shouldn't try. I did object to the fact that people talked in the spa - why isn't silence expected and respected in a tranquil area? Some days the steam room wasn't operating properly but again I wasn't going to make a big deal out of that when I was going there to relax. My wife objected to the fact that the poor Indonesian fellow had to come into the women's change room to collect the used towels. He was embarrassed as was she. This seems to be an easy fix. It also would be nice to have some plastic throw away razors in there to shave with. Smoking continues to be a hot topic. The casino has no walls to enclose it so smoke drifts everywhere. Even when browsing at the boutiques there was smoke present. There was a questionnaire at the end of the cruise about smoking since HAL is obviously attempting or pretending to address this issue. To me, it is simple, no smoking in any public area, no smoking in any cabin. Smoke outside on an open deck in a specified area. The casino is small but complete. Photo shop very pricey - $40 each! Internet a complete ripoff, the Rembrandt show lounge very uncomfortable seating with bars that block views everywhere, Crow's Nest looks like something out of the 60s. The pool and men's change room are dangerous and I am surprised there has not been an accident yet. The floor in the change room is blue marble - very slippery - I had to help several older guys who returned to the sauna wet slipping all over the place on the smooth floor. The design of the change room is poor with the door opening into the corridor. Women walk down to the thermal suite as men flash them unintentionally from the change room. The water in the pools in like a wave pool since they are so small with out-dated ladders instead of gradual ceramic stairs. The area around the Lido pool is stuffy since the overhead retractable roof is rarely open enough to circulate air. The captain said that when the roof was open is got too windy on the deck. I was really impressed by this captain and he is most likely right - so HAL needs to solve this issue another way - perhaps raising the air-conditioning around the pool area or adding some operational side windows.
CREW: We can't speak enough about the crew. They were amazing in every aspect. Even when walking on another deck to return to the room, we were greeted in a most friendly way. The cruise director was there every single time to greet you as you left the gangway for the day, she circulated amongst the passengers well, was visible in all areas of the ship and a gem! Announcements were succinct and unobtrusive. The captain also was visible every day and approachable. It may be a cultural thing but all 5 of us noticed that there was a difference between how male and female Indonesian crew acted. Many bar servers are female. They are very shy and come across as being unfriendly.(although we came to know that they were not) We were taken aback by this since the male crew isn't. Too bad there isn't a martini bar on board. No one seemed to know how to make a decent martini! BOO! So,because of HAL policy of being able to bring as much wine on board as one could carry,wine had to suffice. We brought on 2 cases!
DISEMBARKATION: This was very smooth as well and we were off by 8:30. I appreciated being able to wait where we chose to wait to disembark, instead of being treated like sheep.
IN CONCLUSION: We would travel with HAL again but probably choose a larger, newer ship like the Noordam. The Maasdam certainly has its faithful who like everything she offers. It serves the clientele of 60-80 well and for a first time cruise for 3 of our family members it was a good choice. We liked the intensive itinerary. Our only itinerary change would be to drop Barbados and replace it with a second day at Half Moon Cay at the beginning of the cruise but that is just a personal preference.